No one is entirely sure what a final general audience for a retiring pope is supposed to be like. Somber? Solemn? That weird mix of happy and sad you get when its your favorite co-worker's last day? Since it's been almost 600 years since a living pope quit his job, those gathered in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday got to write their own rules on how to see off a retiring pope, and it actually looks like a lot of fun.
"With chants of "Benedetto!" erupting every so often, the mood – even hours before Benedict was to arrive – was far more buoyant than during the pope's final Sunday blessing," reported the AP. The BBC's Jon Sopel was on the ground and had a similar experience:
Fun and joyous atmosphere in St Peter's Square as pilgrims gather. Lots of chanting. Footballesque - tho no 'come on you Pope...'— Jon Sopel (@BBCJonSopel) February 27, 2013
Imagine the chanting coming from this crowd:
Vatican officials had given out 50,000 tickets for the event, but authorities prepared for 200,000, reported The Telegraph. Reuters says officials are estimating that around 150,000 people showed up. We're terrible number estimators, so here's a wider shot of the crowd:
Here's Pope Benedict XVI rolling out on his final ride in the Popemobile:
Children were kissed:
And like a college basketball game or mega concert, people made signs:
Lots of them:
And people wept...
In his final address to the crowd, Benedict acknowledged that his papacy had been punctuated with scandal—the ongoing fallout of the sex abuse cases, "Vatileaks," and controversy in the Vatican's bank. "The Lord gave us days of sun and of light breeze, days in which the fishing was good. There were also moments when there were stormy waters and headwinds."
Benedict added, "I will continue to accompany the Church with prayers and I ask you to pray for me and for the new Pope." According to Reuters, the Vatican is aiming to elect a new pope by mid-March, so he will be able to preside over Holy Week masses and services (Easter Sunday is March 31). As for Benedict, he will leave Rome tomorrow afternoon at 5 p.m. local time, take a helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, make a small and final public appearance, and then at 8 p.m. the Swiss Guards "who stand as sentries at the residence will march off in a sign that the papacy is vacant," reports Reuters. Benedict is scheduled to move into a convent back in the Vatican in April.
Here's a video clip from the pope's final address: